Two Sonoma trail systems return to public use, but only one is dog-friendly
Sonoma hikers no longer have to make the haul to Sugarloaf or Jack London state parks to stretch their legs. This week two long-closed trails reopen for boot prints, Sonoma's Overlook Trail and the backcountry trails at Bartholomew Park.
Which trail's return is more welcome probably depends if dogs are involved.
Directly or indirectly, the firestorm of October 2017 was a factor in the closure of both trails, although plans to restore portions of the City of Sonoma's 3-mile Overlook Trail predate the fires. Cal Fire bulldozer tracks that scarred the Overlook hillside during that conflagration didn't help any, pushing back that trail's complete reopening by about a year.
The Montini Preserve also has a trail, which did not close, and gets a steady if light flow of day-hikers spilling over from the Vallejo Home on nearby Third Street East. But the downtown location of Overlook – its trailhead is two blocks from the Plaza – has made it a treasured part of Sonoma's fabric since it opened in 1999.
'It really has a special place in people's hearts, because it could have been a hotel,' said Roy Tennant, one of the hard-working stewards who does trail maintenance on both Montini and Overlook. 'Instead, we did the right thing.'
The Overlook Trail resulted from public backlash to an effort by Rosewood Hotels to open a five-star resort on the hill overlooking Sonoma. A ballot initiative voted that plan down, and the City of Sonoma purchased the property to preserve as open space – and the Overlook Trail was born.
'When we conceived of the trail 20 years ago, we had no idea it would become so popular that it would need these repairs so soon,' said Richard Dale, executive director of Sonoma Ecology Center, which acts as the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards' fiscal sponsor.
The trail sees approximately 50,000 visitors annually in most years, from both residents and visitors, said Joanna Kemper, chair of the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards, who managed the restoration. She commended crews from American Conservation Experience, a nonprofit organization that trains young people in trail building and restoration, as doing 'most of the heavy lifting, literally. They worked from late June to early October last year and did a great job.'
The Overlook Trail restoration required nearly $200,000, and most of the money was raised locally through generous donations from the community, Overlook Trail fundraising events, and from grants from local organizations such as Kiwanis, Impact100, Wine Country Weekend and the Evans Foundation.
It was originally scheduled to take 10 to 12 weeks, and include a rehabilitated trail entrance, rerouting of portions of the trail to avoid disruption of storm runoff, and soil and plant restoration. Portions of the 3-mile trail opened last fall, but the final leg – the lower trail from the parking area behind the Mountain Cemetery – will open to the public this Sunday, April 28, with a bit of fanfare, at 11 a.m.
Neither Montini nor the Overlook trails allow dogs, not even on a leash. So dog-lovers will be gratified to learn that the popular dog-friendly Bartholomew Park trails reopen this weekend, too. A flat strolling path round the Bartholomew Estate vineyards and great house have continued to welcome strollers (and their leashed dogs), but the October fires overran most of the 375-acre property and extensively damaged its trail system.
Scott Clyde, general manager of the property who has maintained the original trail system since 1992, was called upon to head the extensive rehabilitation. 'He and our ranch hands have been working like slaves to make the trails safe,' said Anna Pope, trustee of the Bartholomew Foundation. 'They are radically transformed.'
The back country trails rise steeply into what was formerly deep forest, said Pope. Now, many of the trees are gone, and the landscape changed. 'It's both heartbreaking and beautiful,' she said of the new views that have opened up of the Sonoma Valley.
The backcountry trails, she notes, are not for the very young or elderly. Trail maps are posted at the trail heads and parking lots, but new ones have yet to be printed that reflects the system's extensive renovation.
Though Bartholomew Park is open until 6 p.m., gates are closed to new arrivals at 4:30 p.m. Sonoma Overlook Trail is open from sunrise to sunset.
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